How the Eagles Are Calling Plays Under Chip Kelly

The second the previous play was blown dead, Chip Kelly’s assistant was already going through his routine.

Standing on the sideline in a grey hoodie, grey sweats and an Eagles visor, he quickly looked down at his cheat sheet on the grass before running through the motions.

An NFL-version of charades. One second, he was adjusting an imaginary telescope. The next, flapping his wings like a bird.

There were three others joining him: two more assistants and wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur spoke into his walkie-talkie.

As the offensive players set up at the line of scrimmage, they turned their heads to the right, looking to the sidelines for the information they needed.

“The concept is, after you run a play, looking to the sideline and getting the signs so you know the plays,” said LeSean McCoy. “Everything’s sign language… everything from alignments to personnel to plays to formations.”

Ten of the 11 players are asked to look to the sideline. The one slight exception is the quarterback because he has the headset on and gets the call from either the coach or the offensive coordinator. In the case of Monday’s practice, it was Shurmur.

“We have to learn the signals here,” Michael Vick said. “I hear Pat, but I want to make sure I know the signals as well just in case the headset ever goes out. But pretty much getting it from Pat.”

In an effort to maximize efficiency and push tempo, the quarterback does not have to communicate as much to his teammates. In fact, DeSean Jackson said he had “no communication with the quarterback” to get the information he needed. Jeremy Maclin agreed, reiterating that he just looks to the sideline for the hand signals.

“Everything’s being called for the play,” Jackson said. “We don’t huddle up. The relay is from two coaches on the side, sending it in from Pat Shurmur. From there, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s going to be tough.

“It’s good to know the whole system, know the whole offense and be prepared because at any given time, regardless of if you’re the X receiver or the Z receiver, if you’re on the right or left side, it might be a different play call and you have to know what both receivers are doing just because the play might be coming your way.”

The placards that Kelly used at Oregon did not make their way to the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t show up at some point.

In Kelly’s first year as the Ducks’ head coach, the team used hand signals. But according to a report in The Oregonian, there was a sense that Ohio State might have gotten a read on the signals during the Buckeyes’ 26-17 Rose Bowl victory. As a result, Kelly decided to go with the placards, which featured photos of professional athletes, celebrities, TV personalities, wild animals and so on.

In both cases (the hand signals and the placards), the symbols are not chosen at random. For example, an Oregon player told The Oregonian in 2010 that the team might use “Mickelson” to signify a snap count on two because the golfer was always coming in second place.

“There’s tricks to everything that you learn,” Maclin said. “Once you get a certain concept down, most route signals go with the movements that they’re doing. Once you have an understanding of the plays, then the signals flow with that so that’s the way I picked it up and learned it.”

The one major change Kelly will have to account for at the NFL level is the ability to talk to the quarterback through the headset.

Rules stipulate that the line of communication starts when the play clock begins at 40 and remains open for 25 seconds before shutting off. Considering the pace at which the Eagles are moving, that will give Kelly or Shurmur a little extra time to go over the call with the quarterback.

“The difference here that we didn’t have in college is we can communicate to the quarterback, and there’s a lot that’s put on him,” Kelly said. “There’s a whole system involved in that. We can talk to him. Pat [Shurmur] was talking to the quarterbacks while we were out there.”

It remains to be seen how the headset will impact what Kelly requires of the quarterbacks pre-snap. But because it’s only one-way communication (the QBs can’t talk back) and the line shuts off at the 15-second mark, final responsibility will still rest with the quarterbacks.

“You just have to get comfortable with the different terminology and how you’re reading it and getting the reps,” said Nick Foles. “Most importantly is being on the same page with all the guys. …Defenses are going to give you different looks, and that could make the play totally different, so we all have to be on the same page.”

Added McCoy: “As far as just the cadence, if they want to change that [they can]. They might see something in the defense they want to change. That’s really it. We’re going so fast. There’s no time to make too many calls or make too many different adjustments. That’s kind of an advantage for us.”

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  • PaoliBulldog

    I’ve wondered for years whether NFL teams would ever hire a linguist and/or cryptologist to help them put together play calls, to make sure they are easy for the players to understand, hard for the opponents to decipher and concise (greatest amount of information into the fewest syllables). I wonder how Kelly puts together his “vocabulary?”

    • Johnny Domino

      Someone on the staff speaks Navajo.

    • G

      Or Valyrian

      • laeagle

        High Valyrian or Volantese? Or a bastardized version tainted with Old Ghiscari?

        • G

          HAHA jeeze I’m in over my head

          • Warhound

            “…in (1954) a single wave radio was installed in a players helmet so the coach could give the play to the quarterback over a radio frequency. It only resulted in game time interference but the experiment was ahead of its time.” Teams tried to intercept the others signal and new rules against such devices were in place by the next year.

  • jjcraz

    To be honest, I’m not sure how well this will work in the NFL. With the incredible turnover in player personale to rival teams, and scouts whose main objective will be to figure out the game plan of the opposing team (ex: spygate), I can see this being cracked in a matter of weeks. Hopefully, there is much more to this than meets the eye.

    • Bdawkbdawk

      I never thought about it like that. If our opponents start signing guys off of our practice squad the week before, we”ll know why. Or make guys sign a noncompete-nondisclosure. I wonder how that would go over in the NFL.

      • CJ

        Probably not well in the NFL. Wouldn’t be shocked if that’s already banned in the CBA. If it’s not, it should be. I wouldn’t sign a noncompete at my job, there’s no way I would in the NFL. How is that enforceable?

        Besides, what if they refuse? If Shady refuses to sign it, what are they going to do, cut him?

        • cliff henny

          they are almost impossible to enforce. i sign about 5 a day, and they arent worth the piece of paper they’re written on. so many loopholes in them.

          • Right. NDA’s are completely unenforceable.

            NFL rules prohibit signing a guy off the PS of an opponent for the upcoming game so that’s not an issue.

            NFL defenses know what the offense is going to do on at least 25% of the snaps, if not more. It’s about execution. With a speedy system it puts pressure on the defense to process the formation/personal/down and distance/ et cetera to keep up with the offense.

            Obviously it could be a failure, but the Spygate angle is an unlikely Achilles’ heel.

          • James Adair

            Just change it every week with a one time pad. Not much of a problem and is much easier with the placards.

      • Can the signals in Football be any more or less complex then those used in Baseball? I think execution trumps the day and the exceptionally fast tempo renders knowing what’s coming useless if you can’t get the proper defense into position.

        • G

          Agreed here, maybe not useless but definitely hard to use when the offense keeps lining up that fast, too fast for anyone who knows the signals to interpret everything

    • GEagle

      I’m sure the signals will change from week to week

  • B-West

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the placards at some point. NFL teams have too many resources/too much money to NOT dedicate time to figuring out the signals. Especially teams in the division that will see the Birds over and over.

    Their pace of play will help, where even if defenses know what is coming they may not be able to get set up in time to stop it.

    The other option is to change the signals up every week or couple weeks, but that causes worry about all the guys having to re-learn signals every week.

    116 days until the opener, couldn’t be more excited. I think that even if this team is bad again this year, they will be more entertaining.

    • cliff henny

      if every play has options, really what difference does it make. and defenses already know what the qb is saying. forget which it is, eli or romo, that says omaha (think thats right) and ball is immediately snapped, not like defense get ridiculous jump. speed of play will stop them from communicating from coach to MLBr to rest of team. by the time they are turning and talking, shady will be flying thru a hole.

      • nicksaenz1

        Hope they make minor tweaks at the half. That’s possibly all it takes for the signs to be figured out and having the whole D looking at our sidelines to read our signals.

      • theycallmerob

        Exactly. Look at some of the fishduck videos; many teams had an idea of the play being run but couldn’t stop it. Heck, all their IZ/OZ read plays are given away by formation. The options and audibles give the offense flexibility

        • GEagle

          To take it a step further, oregons offense at times counted on the defense knowing exactly what they were going to do, and overpursuing to stOp it, this would create huge wholes away from where the play was designed for RBs

        • cliff henny

          i love that site. every sunday night i end up watching those videos. it’s like football porn to me

      • G

        My thoughts exactly… they can know all the signals they want, but can they communicate these signals from the spies to the coaches to the MLBr then for the MLB to interpret it all and relay it to the D in 4 – 8 seconds? LOL I don’t think so…

        • This is another in a string of examples of how Kelly simplified Football, catching the opposition out of place and short manned.

          This is like the Sesame Street of Football.

          • G

            Can’t WAIT!

        • Gobirds1

          ok, but what happened in the Stanford game? A pro style coach and D shut them dow.

          • G

            Good point

  • The Eagles signals will be changed every week, for each team they play. This is a very complex system. The advantage is 100% for the offense. Even if the defense does steal the signals there is not enough time to get them down to the defense and then on to the field. This happens very fast. The defense will be concentrating on personnel and snap count rather then worrying about plays that the offense is calling. If this works out all the offense has to do is execute, if they do watch out. Defenses will be playing on there heels the whole game. Go Birds. Very excited FAN! E-A-G-L-E-S BABY.

    • cliff henny

      only has to be the slightest of changes. i’d almost want them getting some right, get over-confident in stealing, than switch up. think it’s more of a fan idea than something coaches will practice. defense has to be able to communicate all sign in 10 secs, and even if they did and shifted defense, sure kelly has a one word audible to take advantage. i like our chances of teams trying to out think quickly kelly’s offense. they may stop it, but it wont be because they outsmarted kelly

      • In today’s NFL, specialist rule the day, Shifting will have little effect if the defense can’t get their personnel packages in the game before the Eagles run the next play.

        Kelly’s philosophy comes into place in those instances, Big people beat up little people and, when the defense employs their nickle or dime personnel ” We smash them”

    • Jack Waggoner

      I don’t think they’re super-secret signals. They’re just relaying information to make it quicker to start the next play.

  • JofreyRice

    If Kelly can make the system simple enough to where the entire offense knows what they’re looking at, like he had at Oregon, and the players can effectively execute, it could be a big advantage. My only concern is the marching band getting in the way of the signal relay guy.

    • Jack Waggoner

      Wouldn’t want to get knocked over by a sliding trombone.

      I guess they could call for the Stanford band play.

      • JofreyRice

        I think it’s pretty clear that they’re going to have to have some pretty strict guidelines on where the band can mill around on the sidelines–definitely going to have to get in the ear of the freshmen about this one.

    • Token

      But this seems like a no QB thinking kind of offense. Like run the play regardless. No field reading by the QB, no audibles from him. I just dont see that working in this league. Just seems so amateur. Im curious to see it, but I really have my doubts.

      Having Foles and Barkley running the same option plays Vick is seems dumb. And not what I expected. But all we are getting is tweets and articles from people, havent seen it ourselves. I dont want to see a bunch of square pegs in round holes. Thats not what Kelly said he was going to do. I dont see how Foles/Barkley can get properly prepared with Vick on the roster. Because theres no way they can run the offense the same way Vick would. This Vick thing should have never been drawn out another year like this.

      • eaglepete

        agree on the bringing vick back thing but just compare skins use of Cousins and RG3. You simply adapt if a different QB comes in for an injured guy. Its not impossible. Many wrinkles within same scheme that you can apply in different ways to a players skillset.

        • Jack Waggoner

          Yeah… it’s not even an uncommon thing. Look at when the Eagles switched from McNabb to Garcia. They couldn’t have been much different skill sets, and yet they just used those parts of the playbook that suited their abilities.

        • Token

          Yea it can happen. But im saying it makes no sense at all. And that you are wasting valuable time with Foles/Barkley. I see no way they can progress in the appropriate way while practicing these plays that they should never be running in a game. Simply because Vick is the starter and thats whats being installed.

          Potentially a year of wasted progress because Kelly wants to keep Vick one more season. For who for what? So he can try to prove hes the biggest genius to ever coach? To show that all the other coaches who ever worked with Vick just arent on his level? Its got to be a ego thing.

          They have to learn a lot about Foles and Barkley this season. Because next years draft may rival last years as far as QBs go. They have to either know they have their guy on the roster right now, or prepare to trade high up for a guy like Bridgewater.

          • ben

            There are good reasons Kelly is the coach and not narrow minded and shallow fans such as you people who fear change and have little understanding of what Kelly is doing.

            You think he hasn’t thought of what you are writing here? You really think he wants all the QBs to run? Give him some credit, he knows more thaan we do about what he is doing. I have a prediction for you in a two for one: Matt Barkley will ascend to starting QB and lead the Eagles to a win in the first playoff game.

            Quit thinking this is last year and get into the 21st century.

          • Token

            Narrow minded and shallow for not thinking the Eagles and Chip are the best team ever?

            I will never understand your type of fan. I just dont get it. The Eagles have sucked pretty much forever. Yet there are people like you who feel they can not possibly do any wrong and every decision they make is the right one. What have they done to earn your trust?

            Kelly wasnt even the best coach in the college game and you assume hes going to be a god in the NFL? A 4th round pick with a questionable at best arm is going to lead them to a playoff win this year? Those are some pretty rose colored glasses. Im not so sure im the narrow minded one here. But please keep calling into Dave Spadaros show and telling him how great the Eagles are in every way. I prefer to stay realistic.

          • Because the best coaches in college always do so great? Please ask Miami fans how that worked out for them with Nick Saban.

      • JofreyRice

        I share your doubts, but I disagree about the QB. I think the QB has a ton of decision making to do: at the line, after the snap, depending on what the end does, etc.

        Yeah, I do think it’s dumb to have Foles & Barkley run the same kind of plays Vick does. Totally different skill set. I’m willing to bet that Kelly realizes that, though, so I’m really just eager to see it on the field.

  • I love all the football masterminds that are giving reasons why this wont work. Do you think that, in this entire organization, that no one (Chip included) has thought of any of these things? That Chip is sitting in his office giving himself a big pat on the back saying “Boy Chippah, you really outsmarted them this time!! This plan is foolproof!” C’mon people. We have no idea exactly how the system works and I’m sure these issues have been thought of.

    • The obvious mix matches this system will cause is almost comical should the execution match the expectations. The Eagles rotating in fresh players to run plays every 20 sec.

      Wearing down a defense expected to contain DeSean, Maclin, Ertz, Celek, Shady, Brown or Vick on a keeper. The possibilities are endless for successive 10 to 12 play drives.

      I’m anxious to see the brilliance that defenses this attack.

      • See that’s how I think. Kelly has gone for speed AND size – these guys are gonna be tough to stop if it’s executed well. You have to account for too many people in too many places – lol – and you have to play honest ’cause someone will burn you (RB – TE – WR – hell QB) if you don’t. This looks like it’s gonna be fun.

    • theycallmerob

      Welcome to the internet! Take a breath or smoke a doobie, good sir, before your hair falls out.

      • B-West

        Ha. Well said. See you in September if you don’t feel like speculating a little bit.

  • xlGmanlx

    I would love to see the igg’s have all three time outs with less than 5 to go in each half for a change. Time management is going to be the unsung hero of the new regime. From practices, preparation, execution and game day, I think their prior planning across the board increases with the new focus and accountability.

    • GEagle

      Sooo true. ITs almost going to be weird to see us with 3 TO’s during a two minute drill….How the hell something so simple never improved in 14years is the equivalent of Vick getting injured all the time and refusing to slide

    • bentheimmigrant

      To be fair, Andy was much better at that in the last two years, at least in the second half. Too bad he waited till he let everything else fall apart.

    • cliff henny

      wait…you allowed to do that? only thing more irratating than watching TEs catch pass after pass for past 8 yrs was seeing a qb call TO half way thru 1st quarter on 3rd and 17.

  • eaglepete

    and the negative of up tempo is wearing down your D with 3 n outs. Cant forget that either, not to be negative but just understanding that flow of the game can hurt one side of the ball. Then you hope running more slows down the game also which can keep a losing team within striking distance. I love the signal calling, read a bunch about those techniques in some old CK articles when he was hired. Awesome stuff.

    • cliff henny

      at oregon, he would usually get a first down then go to warp speed. so, his 3 and outs arent much worse on a defense than any other teams. other thing he did i like was go no-huddle, but milk the clock for another 10-15 secs. it’s not alway 12 seconds a play, but when he wants that turbo speed, there’s a reason and it usually worked. it’s going to be fun to watch.

      • Stephen Stempo

        I assume you’re possibly waiting for a specific package or defense to be in

  • ben

    21st century comes to the NFL. Skepticism follows. Change is not easy to grasp for most people so they look for reasons NOT to change. Takes courage to innovate, to carve the new path. Embrace change, guys, the times, they are a changin, and Eagle fans are in the seats closest to the test tubes. Frankly, I love it.

    • G

      Agreed.. love this new approach, using the technology that is at our disposal to innovate the game and be open to changing all the traditional methods to suit this technology… love that Eagles are frontrunning it and love the Jeffrey is coughing up all the cash needed lol… think about how much extra cash he’s had to sink in for all the equipment requirements for practice and all these extra innovations…. love it

      • Gobirds1

        Do you have any idea how much money the Eagles machine throws off. He can spend millions every year on ‘technology’ and it would beware chump change compared to what he makes.

        • G

          Eagles machine = Jeff? Ya I bet… it’s chump change to him, but to the league its probably been quite a significant investment in all of this extra stuff, obviously he would dish it out he’s all-in on Chip and ready to supply him with any resources he needs… Better pan out

  • One word and hand signal play calling, if implemented correctly has it’s advantages, and seems to advantageous for teams who have their science locked in properly.

    Before the headset turns off the Eagles will be running the next play.

    By the middle of the second Quarter teams are going to be struggling and, out of time outs trying desperately to catch their breaths.

    Specialty packages aren’t going to have time to assemble or will get trapped on the field surrendering obvious personnel mix matches.

    Chaos and mayhem abound…….in the same order the Eagles D is going to need depth for fresh bodies in their rotation too.

    • eaglepete

      but its not always about running up tempo the entire game. He uses different tempos throughout, so sometimes the pace can change from play to play to also confuse a defense esp per snap counts.

  • ian

    If communication to the QB can be made until the 15 second mark and Kelly plans on plays within 20 seconds of the whistle that means Shurmur can assist the QB with the defensive reads and fully optimize the play calls and option reads. This above all is seems to be the great advantage of the uptempo game.

  • aub32

    I can see Bellicheck wishing he still had his old video camera down on the side line

    • G


  • Ray

    Do you think his play calls would be harder or easier for other teams to steal? What about ex-players? How do you change it up regularly is what I am wondering. After all, this is the league that gave you Spygate…

    • Stephen Stempo

      well interestingly I guess the thing is if they’re getting the play in and running and snapping the ball 15 seconds from the last play; Does it matter? I mean the other team will have to have someone on the other side of the field reading the signals, then relaying that to the dc who has to relay it to the defender with his helmet on, he in turn has to relay that information to the other 10 players on D all the while they are rushing to the line because we’re about to snap the ball again. So even if a team does figure out the signals will there even be enough time to take advantage of it is my point. It’s not as if we’re giving them the time to make substitutions either.

  • David J Daniels

    I get the feeling that any player that we cut in the near future will certainly be picked up by a NFC East team so that a lot of these secrets can be uncovered. Gonna be cool to see what Chip has up his sleeve and if these hand signals will change weekly.